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Cablegate: Tfxo01: Tsunami Death Toll Rises in Burma

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

281015Z Dec 04

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 RANGOON 001633

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR EAP/BCLTV, CA TASK FORCE, OPS CENTER
BANGKOK, KATHMANDU FOR USAID
USPACOM FOR FPA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: AEMR CASC PREL PINR PGOV AMGT BM
SUBJECT: TFXO01: TSUNAMI DEATH TOLL RISES IN BURMA

REF: A. RANGOON 1629

B. SECSTATE 273476

1. (SBU) Summary: It is evident now that Burma's remote
coastal and delta regions suffered at least several dozen
casualties and, at the village level, significant property
damage from the earthquakes and tsunami of December 26th,
although the full extent of the impact is still unclear. As
of COB December 28th, there are no reports of any Amcit dead
or missing. Remarkably, the GOB, always reluctant to admit
any problems in the Golden Land, has publicly announced
deaths and damage in coastal regions, although official
figures are considerably lower than UN and NGO estimates. UN
agencies and the Red Cross are assessing the situation and
have offered assistance, though the GOB has yet to request
any outside aid. No matter how bad it gets here, and the
death toll will almost certainly climb, we are doubtful the
government will ask for international help. End summary.

Government Admits a Problem

2. (U) The GOB has taken the unusual step of announcing
publicly that there were casualties in Burma due to the
earthquakes and subsequent tsunami of December 26th.
According to the December 28th edition of the mouthpiece
daily "The New Light of Myanmar," Burma was hit by nine
earthquakes between 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 am on the 26th with
resulting damage to buildings in six of Burma's 14
administrative regions. The most significant damage occurred
in "coastal regions," where, according to the GOB, 34 people
were killed, 45 injured, and 25 are still missing. The GOB
reported that tidal waves destroyed 17 villages in this same
area, leaving 200 people homeless. The newspaper account
noted that GOB officials were visiting damaged townships in
the delta region and offering unspecified "necessary
supplies."

3. (SBU) The GOB official numbers are at variance with those
of several UN sources who, as of December 28th, offered
estimates as high as 57 deaths -- 20 in southern Tanintharyi
Division, bordering Thailand, and 37 in the Irrawaddy River
delta region southwest of Rangoon. According to additional
UN sources, the GOB has not requested international
assistance and thus UN efforts are focused on assessment.
The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) remains
the coordinating agency for any international relief efforts
in Burma, though UNDP is poised to take over that function
should the situation worsen.

4. (SBU) The official GOB numbers also differ from those
given us informally by a government source who claimed there
are 56 dead and 92 injured in southern Tanintharyi Division
alone. In addition, a Myanmar Red Cross source told UN
officials that he thought there could be as many as 90 dead
in the Irrawaddy delta zone, though he admitted this number
was based on informally gathered information.

No Amcits Reported Missing

5. (U) There have not been any reports of missing or dead
American citizens in Burma. The areas apparently hardest hit
by the earthquakes and high seas, which include hundreds of
delta and coastal islands, are quite remote and mostly
untouristed. Dive boats launched out of Phuket in southern
Thailand are known to frequent waters in southernmost Burma,
but we have received no reports of boats or foreign tourists
missing in these areas. As mentioned in reftel, and
corroborated by business and UN contacts, there was little or
no damage to the major tourist beach areas west of Rangoon on
the Bay of Bengal.

6. (SBU) Comment: The number of deaths will likely rise over
the next several days as UN field officers and NGO workers
report in from remote locations. There is very poor
communication with remote delta settlements and with islands
in the archipelago along the far southeastern coast. The
number of itinerant fishermen in these heavily fished areas
is also unknown. Whatever the ultimate toll, we expect the
GOB to understate any future official accounts of the
disaster. In addition, we would be surprised if the GOB made
any requests for international aid no matter how high the
toll climbs. End comment.
MARTINEZ

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